An arts district is emerging near Lauraville, with apartments, studios, and maker spaces for creative types who want to live and work in the area.
A play on SoHo, the transformative arts district in New York, Polakoff’s SoHa Row and SoHa Union are a mix of new construction and rehabbed commercial buildings that together will add 50,000 square feet of space for photographers, graphic designers, visual artists, musicians and others.
To call attention to the venture, Polakoff has filled the windows of the buildings undergoing rehabilitation with black and white graphics bearing the words, SoHa Row. Bob Gillespie was the graphic artist.
“What do you think it stands for?” he asks. “It could be South Harford Road. It could also be southern Hamilton.” Either way, “SoHa is easier to say…We’re trying to create an environment and a vibe in the community.”
Known for his work with Baltimore’s School for the Arts and Station North arts district, Polakoff led a building-by-building, room-by-room tour of the emerging district last week for area residents and prospective tenants.
The spaces in SoHa Row range from a 145-square-foot studio to a 1,400 square foot space that could be a dance hall. Polakoff said he already has rented the first floor of 4719 Harford Road to a restaurant operator, but can’t disclose details yet except to say it will be a locally-owned business and not a chain. Once word gets out, he said, others likely will want to be nearby.
His vision is to have commercial spaces at ground level, to add life to the street, and smaller studios on the upper levels. He said he has been working on the project for the past several months, will build to suit as tenants emerge, and may add more buildings if there is demand.
Alexander Design Studio is the project architect and Constantine Commercial Construction is the contractor. The first spaces will be ready next year.
“All the spaces are different,” he said. “We’re sort of doing this in bits and chunks.”
Polakoff, the president of Property Consulting Inc. has other projects underway, including the renovation of the former Odell’s night club on North Avenue, with Jubilee Baltimore.
He said he chose the Harford Road corridor as a place to develop property because he believes it has potential for the type of work he specializes in. He said he has patronized businesses in the area for many years, including the Hamilton Tavern, Clementine, Maggie’s Farm and “The Chameleon before it was Maggie’s,” and likes what’s happening in the area.
The first property he bought along the corridor was a vacant lot at 4801 Harford Road. That’s where he plans to build a four-level structure called SoHa Union, with 16 apartments and street-level commercial space.
While he was planning how to develop the vacant lot, he said, the American Beauty Academy closed and he bought its real estate in the 4700 block, which includes several buildings and a large parking lot in the rear. The properties are already zoned for mixed-use development.
According to Regina Lansinger, director of Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street Inc., the SoHa Row property is technically in an area called Moravia-Walther. But it is across the street from Lauraville, south of Hamilton and north of Arcadia.
Polakoff notes that SoHa Row is not intended to be a state-sanctioned arts and entertainment district like Station North, Highlandtown or the Bromo district. He said the spaces aren’t even restricted to artists, although that is a key market he wants to serve.
“It’s not a state-sanctioned arts and entertainment district, but it’s home to a lot of artists,” he said of the area. “I think the artist community could be a very important part of what we are creating.”
In terms of the final mix of tenants, “you guys are going to decide,” Polakoff said to the people on the tour. “The market is going to decide what people want.”
Polakoff said he has already begun rehabbing the existing buildings and hopes to start site work for SoHa Union before the year ends. He declined to say how much he is investing.
The tour drew more than a dozen people, including a photographer, a paper cut artist, and Ellen Cherry, a “song and story alchemist.”
Annie Howe, the paper cut artist, said she likes the area and is interested in leasing space at SoHa Row “I just like it here and I would like to be able to work here too,” she said.
Lansinger, from Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street, said Polakoff’s development is consistent with other plans for the area, which call for encouraging locally-owned businesses rather than chain stores and growing incrementally by giving the community what it wants.
“We’re very home grown here,” she said. “So much of our success has been very organic. We’re not trying to force anything here.”
Lansinger added that she is impressed that Polakoff met with the community early on to present his plans and has continued to work with area residents.
“He’s bringing something very exciting here,” she said.
Polakoff said he remembers a time when local artists gravitated to Fells Point because it was affordable. When artists were priced out of Fells Point, he said, many of them moved to Hampden and helped revive that area. Now prices are rising in Hampden, limiting who can move there.
“This neighborhood,” by contrast, “is a real value from a homeowner’s standpoint,” he said. “It’s a value proposition. After the recession, people are looking for value.”
Does that mean Lauraville is the next Hampden?
“It’s not the next Fells Point,” he said. “It’s not the next Hampden. I see it as the next SoHa. I see it as its own village. This is going to be exceptional for its uniqueness.”
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